Ambassador John D. Negroponte
Director of National Intelligence

Salina Area Chamber of Commerce


Thank you for that warm introduction, Tom.

Congressman Jerry Moran, Chairman Ross Hoffhines, officers and members of the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce, ladies and gentlemen: thank you for your warm welcome to the heart of the heart of the country. I am delighted to be here tonight, and to be joined by my Deputy Director for Management Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, as well as by a native Kansan, my Deputy Associate Director of Science and Technology, Steven Nixon. I also am delighted to address an organization of civic leaders that has made its mission to ensure that the people are an active part of the international dialogue that shapes our world. It is important to me to meet with citizens like yourselves to ensure that what our government is doing in the realm of intelligence is anchored in a broad consensus that our activities are necessary, prudent, and as well understood as their confidential nature permits.

What you will hear from me tonight will not be classified, but I hope it will be informative and thought provoking. There is a good deal that can be said openly about the threats we face, our strategy for intelligence reform, and the steps we are taking with a sense of urgency to make America safer. I don't want to alarm anyone. I assume that after 9/11 you already are alarmed. I do, however, want to share with you an inventory of concerns that implicitly answers the questions: Why does the United States have an Intelligence Community at all? Why should fifteen federal agencies- that's the CIA plus fourteen others- concern themselves with intelligence gathering and analysis?

If there were no threats to America's security, to American lives, and to American values, there would be no good answer to those questions. Unfortunately, such threats do exist. First and foremost, we are engaged in an unprecedented War on Terror, and our adversary, the global jihadist movement, has spread, continuing to menace US interests at home and abroad. 9/11 was not the first attack on the United States, nor do al-Qa'ida, its affiliates, and other jihadist groups want it to be the last. Our intelligence effort is directed at thwarting these intentions.

We want to see terrorists stopped wherever they strike. We especially want to see them stopped where they aspire to take over or destabilize entire nations, as in Iraq or Afghanistan, and where they aspire to empower themselves through the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. Terrorists do want to create, buy, or steal WMD. We cannot tolerate that. Nor can we tolerate efforts by rogue nation states to evade international law and threaten international stability through deceptive programs in WMD development. Iran and North Korea fit that bill. The role of intelligence lies in unmasking these deceptions and providing policymakers with as clear a picture as possible of the challenges they face in securing the peace.

But it is not only force that concerns us when we look out on the international scene. Fragility can be problematic as well. The potential for state failure is a priority for US intelligence. When all is said and done, nation states remain the building blocks of the world order. So in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, or Latin America, we need to keep watch on countries that might be dissolving into disorder. Major nation states like Russia, China, and India also rank high on our list of priorities. This is not because we assume they will collapse, as Afghanistan once did, or fall prey to a populist demagogue, as is the case in Venezuela, but because they represent burgeoning geopolitical and economic interests that are going to grow in the 21st century.

Large states have a large leadership role to play in addressing issues that are inherently transnational in nature. Think of the common challenges and threats we all face: HIV/AIDS, potential pandemics deriving from viruses like avian flu, and the pervasive menace I spoke of first and foremost...terror, which I would now like to examine with you more closely by addressing five key questions.

  1. What exactly is the terrorist threat and who is our enemy?
  2. Why do they want to attack us?
  3. Can the Muslim world be our ally in this war?
  4. Why is there still a threat given all the detentions of al-Qa'ida leaders and the many security measures we have adopted?
  5. How do we win the war?

To begin with question number one, "What exactly is the terrorist threat and who is our enemy?", let me say this:

Essentially, today's terrorist threat stems from the growth and spread of an exclusionist, radical ideology espoused by militant jhihadists that inflames commonly held grievances among Muslim majority communities and calls on its recruits to "defend"the Muslim world from perceived Western aggression.

Proponents of this ideology veil their unpopular political agenda for good reason. It has no broad appeal. By distorting religious interpretations and exploiting an overwhelming desire for changes in the political systems of the Middle East, they nonetheless aspire to create a regional Caliphate they would dominate- a repressive regime similar to the deposed Taliban in Afghanistan.

Al-Qa'ida is the primary proponent of this ideology, but its geographical dispersion (aided by global telecommunications) has allowed other voices and actors to play prominent roles in pushing it.

The result is that we appear to be facing a range of groups, networks, and individuals espousing al-Qa'ida's ideology and carrying out its anti-US agenda.

Question number two: "Why do they want to attack us?" This is something we need to think through carefully without falling into the trap of ascribing enmity toward the US as generic anti-Americanism, which does play a role, but perhaps not the decisive role in this particular case. In fact, we are a very useful adversary for a small group of determined political extremists whose central objective may be less to "drive America out"than to find enough leverage and prominence through attacking us to provoke a kind of civil war within the Muslim world that they, country by country, have a chance to win.

In saying this, I don't want to minimize the anger and resentment in the Muslim world toward us the jihadists are attempting to ignite. The terrorists take advantage of these sentiments to sell their solution of blaming the West for every problem the region faces today. To spell these points out in a little greater detail:.

Growing unemployment, few opportunities for economic advancement, state systems that provide limited outlet for political action or chances to improve social conditions, and racism in diaspora communities around the world are every-day experiences for many Muslims.

The terrorists tap these frustrations and attempt to sell a solution that would prevent pluralism and free elections, undermine protections of minorities, centralize economies, curb free enterprise, prohibit free speech, and prevent the practice of any faith that deviated from their own extremist interpretations.

The United States and its allies are well known for promoting an entirely different kind of world- a world in which freedom of speech, congregation, and worship are protected by the law- a world that respects the rights of all people regardless of their race, religion, gender and regardless of where they live.

What we promote in the Middle East and around the world is threatening to the terrorists' vision. The terrorists especially feel that US influence and presence within the Middle East is an affront to their religion and culture. They cast all we do as an attack on Islam.

This propaganda sounds improbable, but we cannot be complacent in a view that no one would accept it.

This leads me to a question that I believe is on the minds of many, question number three: "Can the Muslim world be our ally in this war?" The short answer to this question is yes, but we should not think of "the Muslim world"as one thing, which it is not. The Muslim world is vast and various, and its political life is full of complexity. Taking this into account, we can best answer question number three by focusing on engaging with a broad cross-section of mainstream Muslim opinion-makers, including clerics, and their affiliated organizations, to ensure that they are active in defense of values we all share. If we do so, there is reason for hope. In the longer term, the cycle of jihadist recruitment can only be broken by undermining the legitimacy of the message as well as the messengers, and by supporting a feedback loop within Muslim communities around the world that rejects violent extremism and embraces constructive and peaceful political processes. Public opinion polling tells us that much of the Muslim world already is our ally when it comes to how it would prefer to govern itself. While many Muslims do see a role for religious leadership, involvement, and guidance in their concept of democracy, they simultaneously support democratic institutions like free speech, free, fair, multi-party elections, and equal justice for all. In contrast, the intolerant, undemocratic, repressive Caliphate the jihadists envision is not what the preponderance of the Muslim world has in mind for itself. This contradiction needs to be highlighted.

To answer question number 4) "Why is there still a threat given the detentions of so many al-Qa'ida leaders and all the security measures we have adopted?"- perhaps it makes sense to refer very carefully to our experience during the Cold War. I say "very carefully"because, as I suggested earlier, it would be just as undesirable to underestimate the appeal of the jihadists as it would be to overestimate it. Communism was ostensibly a universalist ideology. That was a political strength that made it more challenging. Unlike communism, the extreme variant of conservative Salafism the jihadists represent isn't universalist; it's exclusionist. This means that it is built with limits in mind, although these very limits can be appealing to deeply alienated individuals wherever they may reside.

In addition, jihadism is not backed by an enormous military machine, as was communism. Nonetheless, it will take a long time to expose the empty promises of a better life the jihadists are touting. Turning the tide of an ideology that has been hardened in conflict after conflict- adding places like Chechnya, Indonesia, and Somalia to the list of over a dozen so-called jihads since Afghanistan- will take time and sustained commitment. We must remember that greater violence can be a sign of desperation and weakness. Continued terrorist attacks are not an indication that we are losing the war.

Perhaps question 5), "How do we win the war?", is best answered briefly. We will win the war against terror by virtue of Muslims and non-Muslims alike understanding the problem more fully, realizing it will take the work of a generation to fix, and embracing the fact that this is a global problem and all civilized states have a critical role in countering terrorism.

By promoting pluralism, reform, and democracy in parts of the world where all three are too little present, we can ultimately undermine the terrorists' ideology and engage a very broad coalition as partners against them.

By understanding that al-Qa'ida and Bin Ladin and terrorists like him seek to divide Americans, isolate us from our allies, and prevent American ideals of democracy from resonating among majority Muslim communities, we can all be a part of undermining the terrorist agenda.

By contributing to the efforts to improve the lives of the economically disadvantaged \endash no matter their race, religion, ethnicity, or location \endash we succeed where the terrorists fail.

By ignoring the insults lobbed at us by jihadist propagandists, refusing to change the way we go about or daily lives, and most importantly, by choosing not to be afraid, we can make sure the terrorists lose. Judging when that day comes will be difficult, but not impossible. There are some potentially good metrics for strategic success against the terrorists. For example, we are looking for signs of progress, such as the emergence of more pluralistic practices in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia; the sustained engagement of mainstream Muslim leaders and communities in denouncing the jihadist ideology; and the increased willingness of other governments to work against extremists on their own because that's what their people want. All this represents a lot of work, but we are at a critical juncture in the confrontation with militant jihadist extremism, and we are starting to hear more voices in the Muslim world challenge the militant jihadist message of intolerance and hate. I am convinced that Muslims will, eventually, reject an ideology that perverts a great religion and calls for the death of all who oppose it. We all deserve, and will achieve, a better world than that.

In closing, let me say that as Director of National Intelligence, a position created by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, my primary job is to help identify the right questions about subjects like terror and then ensure our Intelligence Community answers them. But to get the right answers—timely, accurate, and objective—now calls for reform.

As a consequence, while making many decisions and setting many initiatives in motion, I have spent my first nine months building a world-class leadership team whose job is to help me optimize the Intelligence Community as a whole and develop a shared strategy for them to execute.

Together we are moving from a loosely federated Intelligence Community to a well-integrated Intelligence Community. In less than a year we have:

So in addition to team-building and strategy development, I view our start-up period as a time of quick action in areas where immediate reform and structural reorganization were necessary. Urgency is our watchword as we strive to achieve cascading effects that make it possible for everyone in the Intelligence Community to work more effectively with each other and better serve the President, the Congress, our troops overseas, and our law enforcement officers at home.

The reform process we have launched will play out over years, but the important point is that we have established momentum and are working hard to build that momentum. The time to dramatically change US national intelligence really is upon us.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak with you this evening. I appreciate your taking the time to listen, and I wish you, the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce, and the great State of Kansas the very best.